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URPP Language and Space

Ekaterina Egorova

Ekaterina Egorova, Dr

  • Former doctoral student GIS (now SDS) Group

Ekaterina Egorova had joined the URPP Language and Space in September 2013.

PhD project

From Text to Space: Spatial Discourse in Alpine Route Directions and Narratives

How do people talk about navigating in space? What does it tell us about how they conceptualize space? How does that depend on the context of navigation? These are some of the central questions in GIScience, driven not only by the scientific motivation, but also by a practical need to incorporate naive geographic knowledge into GISsystems, which are increasingly finding their way into the everyday life of an average citizen. Many studies have examined the way people perceive space and navigate in urban settings, while spatial thinking in and about natural environments remains largely underinvestigated, mostly as a result of associated difficulties for participant studies. At the same time, more and more people engage into a variety of activities in natural spaces such as mountains and share their experiences in the form of expedition reports and description of routes on multiple online platforms. These increasingly large volumes of data offer new opportunities to study space conceptualization, but also require the development and adaption of appropriate methodological tools.

In my project, I apply methods from cognitive and corpus linguistics in order to explore the potential of spatially-focused corpora to answer questions related to spatial cognition. In particular, I investigate spatial language and concepts in alpine route directions from the Web and the digitized journals of the Alpine Club, providing a first, linguistically underpinned, understanding of space conceptualization in the context of mountaineering. Methodologically, my project proceeds from a qualitative, iterative linguistic analysis of spatial concepts in route directions to a corpus-based investigation of a particular structure (fictive motion) and further to a corpus-driven development of rules for its extraction and classification.

Thus, in case study 1, I report on the variety of ways in which main wayfinding elements -- landmarks and action prescriptions, route segments and decision points -- are represented linguistically, revealing certain thought-related patterns such as deictic switches and switches between the levels of granularity in space description. Case study applies a corpus-driven approach to explore a particular structure – fictive motion (“The ridge went North”) and report on the types of spatial scenes (static and dynamic) that it can encode. Finally, in case study 3, rules are developed for the automatic extraction and classification of fictive motion in text.

The contributions of the project can be explored at multiple levels. From the perspective of methodology, it demonstrates a pipeline for a linguistically grounded, corpus-based investigation of spatial language and concepts. It also represents an important step towards the spatial parsing of text, which will enrich existing toolboxes, allowing the capture of spatial information in a variety of textual data. On a theoretical level, it enhances our understanding of the ways spatial information is represented linguistically in various types of spatial discourses, providing insights into spatial thinking in the context of mountaineering.

Supervisors: Ross S. Purves, Thora Tenbrink, Robert Weibel

Funding source: URPP Language and Space

Refereed Publications


Egorova E., Tenbrink T., Purves, R. S. Fictive Motion in the Ception of Landscape in the Context of Mountaineering. Submitted to Spatial Cognition and Computation.


Egorova E., Tenbrink T., Purves R. S. (2015). Where Snow is a Landmark: Route Direction Elements in Alpine Contexts. In I. S. Fabrikant, M. Raubal, M. Bertolotto, C. Davies and S. Freundschuh (Eds.), Spatial Information Theory (vol. 9368, pp. 175–195). Berlin: Springer.

Wartmann F., Egorova E., Derungs C., Mark D., Purves R. S. (2015). More Than a List: What Outdoor Free Listings of Landscape Categories Reveal About Commonsense Geographic Concepts and Memory Search Strategies. In I. S. Fabrikant, M. Raubal, M. Bertolotto, C. Davies, S. Freundschuh, & S. Bell (Eds.), Spatial Information Theory (vol. 9368, pp. 224–243). Berlin: Springer.

Refereed conference proceedings


Moncla, L., Gaio, M., Egorova, E., & Claramunt, C. (2018, January). An automatic extraction method of static and dynamic spatial contexts from texts. In Atelier Science des Données et Humanités Numériques (SDHN), Conférence Internationale Francophone sur l'Extraction et la Gestion de Connaissance (EGC 2018). [January 2018]


Egorova E., Purves R.S. Frame-Relative Constructions in the Description of Motion. In: Fogliaroni P., Ballatore A., Clementini E. (eds) Proceedings of Workshops and Posters at the 13th International Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT 2017). COSIT 2017. Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography. Springer, Cham. [September 2017]

Egorova E. New and Given Information in Alpine Route Directions. In: Fogliaroni P., Ballatore A., Clementini E. (eds) Proceedings of Workshops and Posters at the 13th International Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT 2017). COSIT 2017. Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography. Springer, Cham. [September 2017]


Egorova E., Boo G., and Purves R. S. (2016). “The Ridge Went North”: Did the Observer Go as Well? Corpus-driven Investigation of Fictive Motion. In Ninth International Conference on GIScience - Short Paper Proceedings, Montreal, Canada (pp. 96–100). [September 2016]


Refereed conference presentations

Egorova E., Purves R. S. Corpus-based Investigation of Landscape Features’ Semantics. Accepted for a presentation at the Conference on Spatial Boundaries and Transitions in Language and Interaction, Monte Verita, Ascona, Switzerland [April 2017].


Non-refereed conference presentations

Egorova E., Climbing, Fighting, and Talking to Mountains: What Alpine Narratives Reveal about Our Spatial Experience, 13th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference (ICLC13), Newcastle, UK [July 2015]


Invited Talks


Egorova E., Spatial Language in Alpine Narratives. University of Pau, Pau, France [November 2016]


Egorova E., How Alpine Route Directions Reveal the Way We Think about Space. Bangor University, Bangor, UK [March 2015]

Derungs, C. and Egorova E., Geographic Insights from Text. Computational Linguistics Colloquium, University of Zurich [December 2015]

Egorova E., Investigating Space Conceptualization in Alpine Narratives. COGIT - Laboratory of the French National Mapping Agency, Paris, France [January 2015]


Egorova E., User-Generated Content: When Geography and Linguistics Meet Online. CUSO Doktorandentag, University of Zurich [April 2014]


Academic Visits

Gaio M. Professor of Computer Science, LIUPPA Laboratory, University of Pau, France [November 2016]

Tenbrink T. Reader of Cognitive Linguistics, Bangor University, Bangor, UK [February 2014]



Vertiefung in GIS, tutor. MSc in Geographic Information Science [GIScience], Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland [October 2016/2017 – January 2017/2018]

Geographic Information Retrieval, lecturer (2 lectures). MSc in Geographic Information Science [GIScience], Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland [October 2017 – January 2018]

Small Group Teaching, instructor. BSc in Geography, Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland [September 2015 – December 2015, September 2016 – December 2016]

GIScience Excursion, leader. BSc and MSc in Geography, Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland [Mai 2014, 2015]



in process

University of Zurich, Switzerland, Department of Geography

Doctorate in Geography — Subject area GIScience

Working title: “Investigating Space Conceptualization in Alpine Narratives”

June 2012

University of Leipzig, Germany, Department of Social Sciences

Master of Arts in Social Sciences — Subject area Global Studies

June 2007

University of Samara, Russia, Department of Philology

Specialist in Philology — Subject area Linguistics and Literature



Best poster award at the Conference on Spatial Boundaries in Transition, Monte Verita, Switzerland [April 2017]



SNSF Early PostDoc Mobility Scholarship [2017]


Organisation of scientific events


Workshop “Corpus in GIScience: Going Beyond Butterfly Collecting”, co-organized with Kristin Stock and Lesley Stirling at the 10th International Conference on Geographic Information Science, Montreal, Australia  [August 2018]

Workshop “Who is behind your data? A conversation across geographic disciplines”, co-organized with Barbara Strobl et al. as part of the Innopool project, Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich [March 2018]

Workshop “Citizen Science and Linguistics”, co-organized with Ross Purves and Martin Volk, University of Zurich, Zurich [January 2018]